Tuesday, July 05, 2016

2016 Peachtree Recap

Every Peachtree Road Race is different. Here is the 2016 version:
After a late dinner Sunday night, I had a hard time getting to sleep. Woke up at 4:45 and showered. Pinned on Will’s number and gathered my things.  
After a few years of barely making it to the start line in time, I was careful to be early this year. We timed it about right. Left home around 5:45 and drove down to our usual parking spot at 5th and Myrtle. Breakfasted on one energy bar and drank a PowerAde and a bottle of Protein Water. Found a long spot for both my CRV and Will’s Toyota. Walked up to MARTA. Skipped the first packed Doraville train as well as a North Springs train with plenty of seats, then squeezed into the next Doraville train. Even though it’s only four stops, this is the slowest MARTA ride you’ll ever take. People were squeezing in at every stop. Then at Lenox only the south exit was open, causing even more congestion.
After we escaped the MARTA station, the shady walk up the hill to Phipps Plaza wasn’t too bad. We arrived at the intersection and stood there for a while at the back of the E group. Saw Jason Kembry from work. As we talked a Peachtree volunteer came up, looked closely at Will’s and my number, and pestered us to return to our groups. As we did the groups moved forward, so I was able to get in the middle of Group F. Knowing I would be walking, I tried to make it over to the right side of the road, as we slowly progressed toward the start line.
As we waited I toyed with my Fitbit. I had charged my first Fitbit for the race, the one with the broken band. I had already walked 1.78 miles by the time I made it to the start line, well over 2200 steps. I wanted to tweet that the 1-1/2 hour journey to the start line is longer than most of my training runs for the Peachtree. I played with the stopwatch function and thought I had erased my day’s work, but eventually I recovered it.
At the start line lots of people turned around to take selfies with the huge American flag behind them. A lot of people, judging not only from what I saw in person, but also on social media as well. Hope their phones didn’t get wet. The Peachtree is such an event, much more than a just world class athletic contest (several of the elite runners will be competing in the Olympics).
Will actually filmed his race start, breaking out in a sprint of the start of Group G. I had considering bringing an old cell phone to take pictures. This would’ve been problematic without my glasses, and with all the water. Question: if I didn’t take a selfie running the Peachtree and post it on social media, did I actually do it?  
The security presence was considerably greater than any previous year. Police and soldiers outfitted in riot gear in MARTA stations and along the walkways to the staging areas, along the race route, and at Piedmont Park. During the race a police officer on a bicycle rode past. There were even bomb-sniffing dogs and heavily-armed Polaris ATVs.   
Even though the national anthem was long and drawn out, the massive C130 flyover arrived just as the last note was sung. My group went off right at 8:00. I stuck to the right, ran the first quarter mile, then fell into my planned pattern of walking 30 seconds, then running 30 seconds. Almost right off the bat I noticed an old greybeard near. Me. Another fellow carried a sack full of soccer balls, handing them out to kids along the way. I knew this was a recipe for disaster. One kid didn’t want the ball, and threw it to a young runner wearing a soccer jersey. The runner bounced the ball, and it got away from him. A little girl loved her ball, but her big brother grabbed it away from her – and the ball bounced into the street right in front of me.
The first mile was pretty uneventful. At the first water station I was sure to pour water on my head, and I realized how hot I was. Every time I’d run, I would pass a young dad wearing a large backpack who was running with his daughter. Grabbed a rubber bracelet from the 104.7 people. No Moe’s swag this year. Saw the priest at St. Phillip’s tossing out “holy water” as he blessed the runners. Moved across to the left side of the road to see the folks at Second-Ponce de Leon – perhaps too late to see Angela Head (and maybe Don?). I did see Charles Quarles and Dock Hollingsworth, but that was about it. Nancy Kelly and Kelly Vonfeldt were there, but I missed them.
I enjoyed the shade running down the hill toward Peachtree Battle. Saw former congressman Max Cleland in his usual spot. And an unfortunate Peachtree first: an ambulance drove south on Peachtree, passing runners, presumably on its way to deliver an overheated runner to Piedmont Hospital. During the race I noticed a sign saying the race threat level was orange (due to the heat) – slightly higher than the yellow alert level I’d seen at the start. Later the treat level was raised to red – one step below the highest “race cancellation” level black.

I kept seeing the greybeard in my area and finally figured out he was walking and running at about the same pace as me. As we both slowed to a walk near the three mile marker to begin the long “Cardiac Hill,” I started talking to him. Over the next 3.2 miles we alternated running and walking and shared our Peachtree stories. Mark is 61, a Henderson High grad who grew up where Spaghetti Junction was built. A high school runner who in one early Peachtree finished in the top 40. Heart bypass surgery at 46 took his wind. Now he coaches cross country at a small private school in Albany. Mark noted that we had traversed the first three miles in 36 minutes, a pretty good pace for both of us. We both knew the rest of the race would take longer, with most of it uphill.
As we reached the top of cardiac hill my fitbit vibrated, signaling I had reached the 10000 step mark. I stopped to re-tie my shoe on the sidewalk. At the four mile mark I made a point of grabbing two free pizza wristbands from Mellow Mushroom. I saw one lady with about five of the prize bands. Will got one band. That makes back about half of our entry fee right there.
My new friend Mark would run for one to one and a half minutes at a time, then walk for about a minute. We passed a big black lady walking proudly along, wearing a group S number. She had obviously jumped in somewhere along the route. The trombone player who sits on the Pershing Point bridge had moved south a hundred yards, joining up with a couple of other musicians.   
Said hello to my former co-worker Ellsworth, who mans the water station at the corner of Spring and Peachtree. Thought of Harriet Clardy, who used to stand across from Rhodes Hall. At the top of the hill at Colony Square we made a point of running. Unfortunately that’s where several parents had their pre-teen children join them for the last mile of the race. As I neared the photo bridge after the turn onto 10th Street I was hot on their heels, and I had to slow down to not run over them. I’m sure this made for a lousy picture (or no picture, as it turned out). Note on the photo of Mark and I: a new photo bridge was added on Peachtree before the 10th Street turn. I obviously didn't see it until it was too late.  

At the six mile mark my shoe came untied. We were running in the rest of the way, so I knew I couldn’t stop to tie my shoe until after the finish. Thanks to Mark, my final mile was the fastest in several years. We walked through the T-shirt chutes and bade each other farewell. The journey with Mark made for a different, but fun and interesting Peachtree. I beat my 2015 time by 15 minutes.
Will was at our usual meeting spot near the stage. He had run a 56 minute race, admitting that he had to stop to walk a time or two. No shame in that. Later Chad Eaton and Danny Downing both mentioned they “didn’t set a personal record.” Guess I need to start saying that as well.
I’m not one for photos, especially looking all hot, wet, and sweaty. My shirt, shorts, socks, and shoes were soaked from pouring cups of water over my head at every water stop. We loaded up on PowerAde, but this year there were no tents handing out energy bars or popsicles. We made the long walk back to our cars. My Fitbit had bitten the dust, a victim of all the water. Good thing I left my newer Fitbit at home.
My T-shirt review: I give it a C. From a distance all you can see are the words ROAD RACE. The color is nice, as is the lightweight fabric. Not a fan of wearing a shoe tread on my chest. But the word PEACHTREE does not stand out, nor does the year. You’d think more thought would go into the color of the lettering against the background color.
In the aftermath I let it slip that I had sold my previous 28 Peachtree T-shirts. Some thought I was lying. For tens of thousands the T-shirt IS the Peachtree. Not me. Spending all that money and undergoing all the hassle to pick up the number, waking up early and fighting the crowds for over three hours isn’t worth it just for a T-shirt. The Peachtree Road Race is the experience.


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